A Combative Clinton Defends Record on Fighting Terrorism
By Michael Grunwald
Former president Bill Clinton angrily defended his administration's counterterrorism record during a Fox News interview to be aired today, while accusing "President Bush's neocons" and other Republicans of ignoring Osama bin Laden until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Clinton had planned to discuss his climate change initiative during his appearance on "Fox News Sunday," but he turned combative after host Chris Wallace asked why he hadn't "put bin Laden and al-Qaeda out of business." Clinton shot back that "all the conservative Republicans" who now criticize him for inattention to bin Laden used to criticize him for over-attention to bin Laden.
Clinton said he authorized the CIA to kill bin Laden, and even "contracted with people to kill him." He also said he had a plan to attack Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and hunt for bin Laden after the attack on the USS Cole, but the CIA and FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible, and Uzbekistan refused to allow the United States to set up a base. By contrast, Clinton said the Bush administration's neoconservatives "had no meetings on bin Laden for nine months," believing he had been "too obsessed with bin Laden."
"At least I tried," Clinton said. "That's the difference [between] me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, [Richard] Clarke, who got demoted."
Clinton seemed particularly irked by Wallace's reference to his decision in 1993 to pull troops out of Somalia, a move bin Laden later described as a sign of American weakness. Clinton argued that even though many Republicans demanded a withdrawal from Somalia the day after the downing of a Black Hawk helicopter, he kept a U.S. presence there for another six months to ensure an orderly transition to United Nations forces.
That's when the interview got testy, as a Fox transcript reflects: